I had so much to say that I’m making this a separate blog post and not just a Goodreads review, so let’s get into it.
I’m actually glad I read the reviews for Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess before writing mine because it’s a nice, current reminder that liberals are often fervent censors just like conservatives–telling people not to read a book or saying that a book shouldn’t be distributed based on what they THINK the book is about. Because, whew child, the number of one-star reviews by people who haven’t even read this book–a process called review bombing–is staggering.
The biggest complaint seems to be that the book is not a romance, though it is marketed as one. Where? Because the synopsis says the two main characters (Jess and Josh) “start an electrifying romance” and the book is therefore tagged as romance? I mean, I guess, but I would say that–even if that were the case–the cover makes it very clear that, though it’s a love story, it is not a romance novel because there is nothing about that cover that hints at a guaranteed happy ending.
There are strawberries in the shape of a heart that look like they’ve been stepped on or otherwise destroyed (note the splatter). It looks like a bloody mess, which, you know, the whole relationship between Josh and Jess is. (And lest you think this is just me being particular, I did ask an impartial outsider who had not read the book what she thought when she saw they cover, and her answer was “a smushed heart.”)
If we move on to the other problem people have, it’s that part of the marketing says that she thinks he’s a racist jerk and he thinks she’s immature and that these things are not equal. Right, they are not the same. The whole point of the book is to examine how a woman like Jess–highly educated, a self-proclaimed liberal, and a Black woman–finds herself in a relationship with someone she knows going in is a conservative during the Trump era/campaign. I would think that many of the women maligning the book would be interested in that since oh so many women found themselves shocked and flabbergasted that their boyfriends, husbands, and partners (many of whom they knew were conservative) also turned out to be Trumpers during that time. But if books are mirrors and windows, sometimes the mirror can be uncomfortable.
The other part that’s important here is that Josh is racist the way many people in the US are. He’s a finance bro who thinks in terms of numbers so always wants to have an intellectual (read: non-emotional) debate about the effects of race and racism in America. He’s blind to his own privilege and how that impacts his access to opportunities. It is pointed out MULTIPLE TIMES that Jess is more intelligent than he is, that she’s better at logic than he is, that she learns faster than he does, and YET he’s the one who gets to advance in his career faster than her for no other reason than he’s good–not great–at his job and knows the right people. He would probably never use the n-word (but would laugh if his friends did), and he would say he can’t be racist because his girlfriend is Black.
Another sticking point seems to be the title because based on all of the “issues” listed above, everything is NOT fine. And, again, this is literally the point of the book. Whenever the title is used in the book, it’s because the person–usually Jess, but sometimes her father–is glossing over just how not fine everything is. At one point, she is in actual anaphylactic shock and when Josh tries to get her medical care, she says, “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” So, again, reading the entire book would make all of that clear.
Okay, last point and then I’ll get into the actual book review. There is an epigraph at the beginning of the book:
Love is never any better than the lover.Toni Morrison
If that doesn’t tell you that Rabess is going to spend the book interrogating and proving that claim, then I don’t know what would.
Also, and not for nothing, I find it VERY troubling that what appear to be a lot of non-Black women are saying that a Black woman writing about being ensconced in whiteness and how a Black character navigates school, work, and relationships in all white spaces is somehow doing it wrong. Can we take a moment and examine that?
All of that said, I found the book to be well-written and engaging. I love an author who employs short vignettes because that keeps me reading even as I may or may not be saying, “Oh no, Jess baby, what is you doing?” There were some moments that were very dialogue-heavy where I wanted a little bit more of what was happening around the characters, but I was never confused about when or where I was in the book, so as a stylistic choice, I would say it was used to great effect. I did also find Jess’s friends flat and unremarkable. I can’t really remember anything about any of them except they were rich and white and one of them was her college roommate.
When I first finished the book I found myself wishing the ending had been the first act break or turning point, but as I said above, the whole point was to show how Jess found herself in that specific situation and moment. This book is supposed to make the reader uncomfortable and question their own complicity in upholding racism. So for that it was very effective. Jess is no victim and has agency throughout so the side eye is real.